Today on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), talks to Crowley in an EXCLUSIVE interview hours after he arrived back home from Ukraine about the vote in Crimea to either join the Russian Federation or become independent.
During the interview, regarding how the U.S. should interact with Putin, McCain told Crowley, “The United States of America, first of all, has to have a fundamental reassessment of our relationship with Vladimir Putin. No more reset buttons, no more tell Vladimir I’ll be more flexible. Treat him for what he is.”
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A transcript from the interview is available after the jump.
CROWLEY: A turning point in Ukraine: voters in the country's Crimea region are casting ballots on whether to become independent or rejoin Russia. Senator John McCain is just back from Ukraine and joins us now.
I know you're sleep deprived, so I especially appreciate your being here.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
CROWLEY: This vote is taking place today.
CROWLEY: And everybody I've talked to says they're going to vote to re-annex themselves to Russia.
I want to play you something and get your reaction. Former Secretary Gates had this to say last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, FMR. SECY. OF DEFENSE: I do not believe we're going to - he's - that Crimea will slip out of Russia's hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: He thinks Crimea belongs to Putin and that's it.
MCCAIN: Well, I think in the short term, clearly now with the overwhelming military superiority and the actions that Putin has taken, you can't say that there is anything but a fait accompli.
But having said that, that doesn't mean that we somehow say, OK, you can have - you, Vladimir Putin, can have a major part of a country that you - that your country itself signed an agreement in return for Ukraine's returning their nuclear capabilities, that they guaranteed the territorial integrity of it.
And by the way, could I just make one comment about the so-called referendum? We have a wonderful ambassador representing the United States in Ukraine. He and I have a bet. I'm saying it's 70 percent of the vote to join Russia. He's saying 80 percent of the vote. We'll see what happens.
Look, it is a bogus thing. We used to call it plebecide in the days of Hitler and Stalin. It is a done deal. And we have to - so any more speculation about –
CROWLEY: It makes things even harder, does it not? I mean what happens now? We know it's ginned up, but it gives Putin more sway.
MCCAIN: First of all, let's - it's important to say what's happening now. I predicted once Ukraine went the direction it did, that Vladimir Putin would not let Sevastopol go. That means taking Crimea.
There's a couple of things going on right now. One, the Russians just took a place where the gas supply comes into Crimea. Gas and water have to come from outside Crimea.
Second of all, there's 4,000 Ukraine soldiers, military people, in bases throughout Crimea that are still surrounded by Russian troops. There is a place called Theodosia that has 600 Marines there. These Marines have said they're not going to surrender. So this thing is not quite –
CROWLEY: Ukraine Marines.
MCCAIN: Yes, Ukraine Marines - excuse me, Ukraine Marines.
And finally, could I just say, no, there is no contemplation of U.S. military action but there is a whole lot of things that the United States of America can do.
CROWLEY: What will move Putin then?
MCCAIN: In the short term, I'm not sure what will.
One other aspect of the present situation: you've just shown on CNN there's demonstrations in Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. The question now is does Putin move into Eastern Ukraine and assert control over there, which I'm not sure why, since he has achieved much of his objectives?
Or does he leave it alone and let the Ukrainian people alone?
One of his problems is that if the people of Russia see a thriving, economically strong Ukraine on their border, they might be - and he's worried that they may be infected with the same disease.
But the United States of America, first of all, has to have a fundamental re-assessment of our relationship with Vladimir Putin. No more reset buttons, no more tell Vladimir I'll be more flexible. Treat him for what he is.
That does not mean re-ignition of the Cold War, but it does mean treating him in the way that we understand an individual who believes in restoring the old Russian empire.
CROWLEY: Practically speaking, what does that matter? How do you treat him?
MCCAIN: Well, I think economic sanctions are a very important step. Identify these kleptocrats and - look, Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country. Its kleptocracy, its corruption, it's a nation that's really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy. And so economic sanctions are important.
Get some military assistance to Ukrainians, at least so they can defend themselves. Resume the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Look at Moldavia and Georgia, both of whom are occupied by Russian troops as we speak, a path towards membership in NATO.
There's a myriad of steps that we can take. And it will be very interesting to see to what degree our European friends will join us, who are dependent on Russian energy supplies.
CROWLEY: Isn't that part of the problem, is that the economies are intertwined in many ways. First of all, there's some Russian money from the elite, certainly does help out in real estate and a number of things in Europe.
MCCAIN: In saying that, in the long term, we should be working to get energy supplies to Ukraine and other countries in Europe.
We are an abundant now energy exporter. We should be using that - if it is a long-term strategy, we should be figuring out right now.
CROWLEY: Two questions and then you say can so in terms of helping Ukraine with weaponry or whatever defense things that they need, I know that you want that. There was a report that the president had not - I'm not sure if he rejected is or is reviewing it.
Have you spoken to the president? Do you have reason to believe he'd turn that down? Or do you think they're willing to do it?
MCCAIN: I've spoken to John Kerry. I did not speak to the president. They are giving it serious consideration.
Look, that doesn't mean American boots on the ground, although maybe delivering some humanitarian supplies by U.S. aircraft, military aircraft, in Kiev might have a kind of beneficial effect.
CROWLEY: PR –
MCCAIN: - yes, in many respects. But we need to give long-term military assistance plan, because, God knows what Vladimir Putin will do next, because he believes that Ukraine is a vital part of his vision of the Russian empire and we need to understand that and act accordingly.
And again, no boots on the ground. It is not the Cold War over again. But we can do a lot of things.
CROWLEY: Big help.
CROWLEY: And let me ask you, because just the tone and some of the things you've said lead me to believe that you do agree that Crimea is gone and that now it is about protecting the rest of Eastern Ukraine.
MCCAIN: Candy, I hate to say that, because obviously it has an effect on those brave people in Ukraine, including those 4,000 that are in bases in Crimea.
What I would like to see is a long-term commitment to the freedom and democracy and the assistance we can provide Ukraine, including, over time, regaining Crimea. That would be one of our goals. It is an integral part of that country.
CROWLEY: But it is not a short-term goal at the moment.
MCCAIN: I'd love to tell you otherwise.
CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, thank you.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
CROWLEY: Hope you get some rest.
CROWLEY: Appreciate it.
When we return, the search intensifies for Malaysia Flight 370, extending north to Kazakhstan in Central Asia and as far south as the Indian Ocean near the coast of Australia. We'll be right back.
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